| 23 February 2024, Friday |

US backs Philippines in standoff over South China Sea reef

The United States said it’s backing the Philippines in a new standoff with Beijing in the disputed South China Sea, where Manila has asked a Chinese fishing flotilla to leave a reef
China ignored the call, insisting it owns the offshore territory.
The US Embassy said it shared the concerns of the Philippines  and accused China of using “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke, and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region.”
“We stand with the Philippines, our oldest treaty ally in Asia,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.
Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday demanded about 200 Chinese vessels he said were militia boats leave the Whitsun Reef, a shallow coral region about 324 kilometers west of Bataraza town in the western Philippine province of Palawan.
Philippine officials said the reef, which they call Julian Felipe, is well within the country’s internationally recognized exclusive economic zone, over which the Philippines “enjoys the exclusive right to exploit or conserve any resources.”
The Philippine coast guard spotted about 220 Chinese vessels moored at the reef, which Beijing and Vietnam also claim, on March 7.
On Monday, a surveillance aircraft spotted 183 Chinese vessels still at the reef, said Philippine military chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who released aerial pictures of the Chinese vessels in one of the most hotly contested regions in the strategic waterway.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese presence, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
China insisted it owns the reef, which it calls Niué Jiao, and said the Chinese vessels converged in the area to avoid rough waters.